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Joe Kenney, Mike Cryans campaign for N.H. Executive Council in District 1

  • Editorial board with executive council candidates (L) Joe Kenney and (R) Mike Cryans.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Editorial board with executive council candidates (L) Joe Kenney and (R) Mike Cryans.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Editorial board with Executive Council candidate Joe Kenney.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Editorial board with Executive Council candidate Joe Kenney.
    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Editorial board with executive council candidates (L) Joe Kenney and (R) Mike Cryans.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Editorial board with Executive Council candidate Joe Kenney.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

As Republican Joe Kenney and Democrat Mike Cryans campaign through the Executive Council’s District 1, they’re hearing a similar message from constituents: “You’ve got big shoes to fill.”

The two are running in a special election to finish the term of Republican Ray Burton, a longtime councilor who died in November. District 1 covers four cities and more than 100 towns, including Tilton, Andover, Danbury, Gilford, Sanbornton, Hill, New London, Wilmot and Laconia. The election is Tuesday.

The five-member Executive Council acts as a check on the governor and is a government entity unique to New Hampshire. Councilors must approve all of the governor’s judicial nominations and appointments of state agency heads, as well as state contracts more than $10,000. Right now the council has three Democrats and one Republican. Councilors serve two years and are up for re-election this November, meaning whoever wins this special election will need to run again later this year.

Burton served on the council for 35 years and was known for his constituent service work and advocacy on behalf of the North Country. Both men praised Burton and his long career frequently during recent interviews with the Monitor’s editorial board.

“I felt I learned a lot from him, his constituent outreach program,” Kenney said. “I never ask people if they’re a Democrat or a Republican, I just want to help people.”

“I think the thing that I enjoyed the most about observing Ray was his strong desire to do constituent service and help people. To me that was his benchmark,” Cryans said.

This similarity aside, each candidate would bring a different set of professional experiences and political leanings to the chair.

Joe Kenney

Kenney, 53, lives in Wakefield. He served four terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and three terms in the state Senate. In 2008, he lost a bid for governor against Democratic incumbent John Lynch, who carried 70 percent of the vote.

After the loss, Kenney left politics and went back to his military career, serving in Afghanistan with the Marines from 2009 to 2010 and also working with a defense intelligence agency. He came off active duty in November and decided to take another shot in politics after Burton’s death.

When he was in the state Senate, Kenney chaired the transportation committee, as well as the executive departments and administration committee.

Both Kenney and Cryans said the poor condition of roads is one of the biggest problems facing District 1. The council has oversight of the state’s 10-year highway plan, and Kenney said his role on the transportation committee would help him in this regard. This experience in state government is a key piece of Kenney’s campaign.

“I think having been someone who’s worked in state government, who knows the players, who actually understands the legislative and budget process is only going to be an advantage to someone in this race,” he said.

As a fiscal conservative, Kenney said he’d keep a watchful eye over the stacks of state contracts the council must approve. When it comes to approving judicial nominations, Kenney would look for someone who has a strict interpretation of the Constitution and doesn’t legislate from the bench.

He’s also a strong opponent of Medicaid expansion. The council voted in November to let the Legislature come into a special session to debate Medicaid expansion. Kenney said he would have voted to allow lawmakers to reconvene even though he opposes expansion. In the future, the council will vote on contracts with managed-care organizations under Medicaid. Kenney did not say how he would vote on those contracts.

Although the council has minimal power over health care issues, Kenney said he would use his position as a councilor to make his opinions clear to legislators on this and other topics.

“If there’s certain things in my district that are important to advocate for from a policy standpoint, I’ll go into a policy room and lay down my support,” he said.

On social issues, Kenney is a conservative and was endorsed by New Hampshire Right to Life for his pro-life stance. The council made headlines several years ago when it voted down a routine contract with Planned Parenthood. The council voted on and passed that contract last month, meaning it won’t come up for the rest of this year. Kenney declined to say how he would have voted.

Mike Cryans

Cryans, 63, lives in Hanover and has been a Grafton County commissioner for 17 years, working alongside Burton for 16 of them. He challenged Burton for his council seat in 1996 and lost.

Cryans has spent most of his career in public service professions. He was a physical education teacher for five years, then worked in banking for a number of years. About 10 years ago, he started working for Headrest in Lebanon, a transitional living facility for people battling substance abuse.

Part of Cryans’s role as a county commissioner is to approve contracts and make appointments to certain positions, experience he said would help him as a councilor. He was also born and raised in Littleton, and said he carries northern New Hampshire values with him. Still, he has learned a great deal about District 1 during his campaign.

“Until you run for this office, what you think you know, part of it can be tossed out because this is a big, big, big district,” he said.

Transportation and the quality of roads are residents’ biggest concerns aside from the economy, he said. As a councilor, Cryans said he’d advocate to get more money for North Country road repairs. Tourism is a strong piece of the North Country’s economy, and bad roads might keep visitors away, he said.

“I think you have to be a strong advocate,” he said. “We will never turn around some of the other issues if we have poor infrastructure.”

Also from a tourism perspective, Cryans opposes the Northern Pass project if it means the construction of above-ground towers, but he would be in favor of burying the lines. Kenney is also a Northern Pass opponent, and both candidates are against wind farms.

On judicial appointments, Cryans said he would be looking for “problem solvers.” Lawrence McLeod, the most recently confirmed New Hampshire Superior Court judge, helped establish a mental health court in Grafton County, which Cryans said he believes is an effective method of dealing with certain offenders.

On both the Planned Parenthood contract and calling the Legislature into a special session on Medicaid expansion, Cryans said he thinks the council made the right choice.

If elected, Cryans said he would determine his success as a councilor by looking back on how many people he’s helped.

“When I set my mind to something, I try to do the very best I can,” he said. “I think I have good stick-to-itiveness, good perseverance and a good will to follow through on something.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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